I promised Lindsey I would write this entry.
I recently decided to re-write a series of books I first wrote in junior high and high school (I wrote one book a year). They were really quite terrible in too many ways to mention, but I was also a teenager. I wrote most before I read anything truly good. I decided this mostly because I think I had some really fun ideas in those books, especially pertaining to politics and religion, which are my favorite subjects, and like I "owed it" to the skeleton of this seven-novel series to not just let it crumble in obscurity (born in lust, turn to dust). I think I also decided to do this because these characters were people I knew, long-forgotten friends who saw me through my most hormonal, unstable years. And I missed them. We've been through a lot together. I named the series after Walton Ford's "Sensations of an Infant Heart" (this is the only thing I've ever written to Harper's Magazine about - I emailed the woman in charge of the art department and said, "So I have this picture from your magazine of a chained up monkey strangling a parrot and I have no idea who it's by, please help?" and she wrote back, "Oh, it's Walton Ford. What a picture, amirite?"). I think I knew while writing it that it was juvenile and half-baked and that I wasn't ready for the story I was trying to tell.
I started publishing short stories a couple years after I finished the last book of this series. I don't feel very much for my short story characters. This enables me to do to them what I could never have done to these first proto-characters, my Adam and Eve. It enables me, supposedly, to view them objectively. There are some that have stayed with me more than others, like Lizbet from "Pugelbone" and the unnamed narrator from "Intertropical Convergence Zone," because they were drawn from places close to me emotionally - Lizbet was drawn from my blood, the army guy from, well, my dad and Suharto and other larger-than-life Indonesian men from my childhood. But most of them are pawns. I like to think they're reasonably well-rounded, but it's entirely possible that they read a little cold and distant because of this wall I put up. I put the wall up for reasons that I thought were good: I was way, way too invested in my proto-characters, it got in the way of the story, and in the end their characterization suffered for it. "Are You Hurting The One You Love," indeed. I know that Kill Your Darlings refers to words, but after this series I decided to use it with my characters. These characters' next permutation were still near and dear to me, but much less so. Because I was also becoming a better writer throughout this whole process, I associated the technique with good writing.
And I think this affected the way I read other books and watched movies/television, too. I stopped getting emotionally involved with other people's characters. I had gone through a period where I was very involved in fictional characters - incidentally, at the same time I started writing my overly-emotional series - and I was embarrassed by that side of me. Sure, there were characters I liked, a lot, like Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks and Starbuck and the Agathons from Battlestar Galactica. I think I only ever fell in love with Billy Budd, of all characters, after the calamity of The Song of Roland (and yes, they all end up dying, always), and maybe a little bit with Yossarian. It took me a long time to find a female character I genuinely liked, and then I found myself much more sympathetic to a whole host of them: Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House, the narrator of The Bell-Jar, April from Revolutionary Road, Lily from Run, River. But for the most part I appreciated these books and movies for other reasons - words or stories or ideas. A lot of my favorite stuff, like A Sound and the Fury and The Violent Bear It Away and almost everything I've read by Cormac McCarthy, were populated entirely by noxious, terrible people. I wanted to see their worlds collide, I wanted to watch them climb over each other and go up in flames, but there was no visceral attachment.
Then I decided to rewrite this series. Around then I started watching The Tudors (I know, I know), and I got all invested in the tragic queens. I've gotten invested in television characters before though - I think it's an effect of spiraling melodrama, it catches you up the way sports catch you up - so that in and of itself was not worth much. But I did end up writing a story based on Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn, because they wouldn't get out of my head. And then when I came back to DC this semester, I started watching that free Netflix series, House of Cards. And I "met" Peter Russo.
Everyone I know who watches that show - and my sample size is all male, for what it's worth - loves the main character, Francis Underwood, because he's "boss" and callous and cool and is in control of everyone. I think Francis is evil and horrible and shitty, but I totally fell in love with Peter's character. I would start episodes being like, "Peter, you'd better not [insert stupid thing here]." And Peter is a terrible judge of character and an addict, so there's a lot of "Oh Peter Russo no" in the show. Peter is weak, while Francis is strong. Peter has big dreams and really deep lows, while Francis is always level-headed, rational, logical, focused on the prize. At the time I wasn't sure why I loved Peter so much. I decided later that he reminded me of who my male proto-character was turning into, and man, I always loved/hated that guy - and it recently occurred to me that my proto-character evolved this way because he's like the id version of myself: the volatile, angry and depressive mess driven by resentment and self-hatred. Starbuck is the female version of this, which is I think why I like her. And my female prototype, the stoic good girl, is my super-ego side that most people see on a daily basis while I work and study and listen to people's problems. This is a surprising realization, to say the least (and not one I was at all expecting), but may go along the way toward explaining why I keep writing this duo over and over, until the end of time.
Organizing and planning the rewrite is like a drug to me now (the outline for the first book - thankfully I scaled it down from seven to three). I do think that the edited/overhauled version has a lot of potential. I think it reflects how much older I am now - the characters and their relationships and the context they operate in are all vastly changed, having been boiled down to their core and seen for what they really are: damaged people, in many ways, the full extent of which I couldn't quite fathom as a high-schooler. I also think it picks at a raw nerve in me, and I've always picked at wounds.
I still can't shake the feeling, though, that real writers don't write this way - not the ones that end up living relatively healthy, balanced lives, anyway. I know that Caddy was Faulkner's heart's darling, but Caddy was barely ever on-page and never heard from directly - which mitigates, I would think, the detrimental effect of an emotional attachment to one's own creation. Because writing is business, right, it's politics and nothing personal?
Mar. 1st, 2013
I promised Lindsey I would write this entry.